In the world of hedge funds, crazy things happen. Huge dollar amounts swing from red to black daily. Analysts uncover investment opportunities in strange assets hidden away in far-flung corners of the world. The only thing larger than the funds themselves are the egos that sit in the corner offices.
But even in the world of hedge funds, it's flat-out crazy that a firm could and would foreclose on a legitimate naval warship.
It's crazy, that is, unless you're Elliott Management Corp., the giant hedge fund run by billionaire Paul Singer. If you're Elliott Management, foreclosing on a warship is just another day at the office.
How Elliott Management foreclosed on a government warship
The story of this foreclosure is actually pretty straightforward. In 2001, the Argentinian government issued some debt. Argentina soon defaulted on that debt and agreed to a restructuring with over 90% of the debt holders.
If you couldn't guess it, Elliott Management was not one of those more agreeable debt holders. Elliott wanted its money, and it wanted it all.
In 2012, Elliott and other debt holders won a series of court rulings in the U.S. and U.K., stating that Argentina must pay up, in full. The U.S. Supreme Court would later concur in a 2014 ruling. The Argentinian government balked and even went so far as to pass legislation stating that it would be illegal under Argentine law to pay these specific bonds at any time in the future.
Under the court rulings, the bondholders were granted the authority to seize Argentine assets to make the debt whole, similar to how a bank may foreclose on a home if the homeowner doesn't make payments. And so, just like that, Elliott Management orchestrated the seizure of the Argentine training ship ARA Libertad when it arrived in port in Ghana in 2012. The hedge fund had been tracking the ship, awaiting its arrival in a port that would honor the rulings of the U.S. and U.K. courts.
Elliott was not able to keep or resell the frigate, though. Soon after it was seized, the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea ordered the vessel free, and it sailed post-haste to more welcoming ports.
Elliott Management's current big fish
Elliot Management currently has its sights set on cloud-storage provider EMC Corp and its CEO, Joe Tucci. Unlike the investment in Argentinian sovereign debt, which was a purely opportunistic financial and legal play, the investment in EMC is being used to encourage a change in corporate strategy at the technology giant.
The fund's stake as of March 31 was just over $897 million, meaning that they hold about 1.7% of outstanding shares.
Tucci has steered EMC into what he coined the "EMC Federation," a collection of cloud-computing companies each at least partially owned by EMC. Tucci theorized that the federation would be able to deploy new technologies to large accounts more rapidly by working more closely together.
Elliott Management disagrees. The hedge fund made that clear by announcing its goal of selling off EMC's stake in VMware, a cornerstone piece of the "federation."
Elliott won two board seats after announcing their position. However, those seats came in exchange for a "standstill agreement" in which Elliott will not actively pursue the plan to sell off VMware. Of course, very few would be surprised if Elliott reneged if EMC's operational performance and stock didn't improve, and quickly.
EMC is down 10.8% year to date.
A fund with a singular focus: making money
If a company you own finds itself in Elliot Management's crosshairs, that isn't necessarily a bad thing. The fund has a stellar track record of unlocking value for shareholders, even if its methods can be combative and aggressive.
That said, some will argue that the fund's methods lend itself to short-term gains at the expense of long-term prosperity. Many view the fund's pursuit of its Argentine debt payments, now stretching into its 15th year, as simply stubborn. It's hard to see the benefit to anyone involved at this point of continuing the fight -- Elliott's portion of the debt is less than a tenth of the assets it holds across its various funds.
Yet on the other hand, the fund has thus far worked relatively amicably with EMC and VMware, proving that the fund's involvement in a business' affairs is not just about scratching and clawing for every penny owed no matter the cost. The fund's tactics in this case, at least so far, seem fair, balanced, and genuinely concerned about creating long-term shareholder value.
So if you see that Elliott Management has been buying into a company you own, you can at least rest easy knowing that the firm has only one objective -- to make the share price go up. To do that, though, it'll do whatever it has to do, combative or otherwise, even if that means foreclosing on a naval warship.